The Telegraph
Thursday , April 24 , 2014
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Bard flies high on birthday

London, April 23: The Bard was flying high today — literally — on his 450th birthday. A 10-foot image of William Shakespeare’s face was painted on to the fuselage of an easyJet flight flying from Gatwick in southern England to Verona in Italy.

On board were three actors from the Reduced Shakespeare Company intent on performing an abridged version of the playwright’s 37 plays at 37,000 feet.

The stunt was all in good fun.

Paul Moore, communications director for easyJet, said: “William Shakespeare is Britain’s most famous author so easyJet is proud to back the bid to make April 23 his national day. To mark the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth the Reduced Shakespeare Company will perform his complete works on board an easy Jet flight to Verona for the first time.

“We hope to set a new Guinness World Record in the process for the highest ever theatrical performance, as well as providing a highly entertaining show for passengers.”

No one is quite sure of Shakespeare’s birthday but a consensus has settled around April 23, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, a must for Indian visitors to Britain.

He died, aged 52, on 23 April 1616, and is buried locally in Holy Trinity Church, just a 10-minute walk from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatres outside which a spectacular firework display was planned at the end of the performance of Henry IV Part I.

Tonight was also the opening night of a new production of Hamlet at the Globe Theatre in London.

A spokeswoman at the Globe, built on the very site where Shakespeare would have performed, confirmed: “Tonight we launch our ‘Globe to Globe Hamlet’ — the production of Hamlet which is going to 205 countries with entire crew over the next two years. It kicks off tonight, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, at the Globe and will finish two years on, April 23, 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death.”

She added: “We’re celebrating all summer long with a special series of public events from Globe Education, Shakespeare at 450: world-renowned Shakespeare scholars will come to the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to share with us what Shakespeare has meant to them, on page and stage.”

It has dawned on the powers that be that Shakespeare’s birthday offers the country a wonderful opportunity to project British soft power. The British Council is drawing up plans for a global programme of events that will recognise Shakespeare as a “living writer” who speaks for all.

There will be funding for touring theatre productions, an international festival of Shakespeare in music and on film and a mass-participation global digital project.

There will also be increased resources for teaching of the Bard’s works, as well as collaborations between writers and translators on Shakespeare-related themes.

Activities will also explore how the playwright came to be enjoyed all over the world and how his work influenced the development of language.

Sir Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, said: “The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death is the biggest opportunity to put UK culture on the world stage since London 2012.

“As the most widely read and studied author in the English language, Shakespeare provides an important connection to the UK for millions of people around the world, and the world will be looking to celebrate this anniversary with the UK. We hope that the UK’s cultural organisations will come together to meet these expectations and ensure that 2016 is our next Olympic moment.”

Graham Sheffield, director of arts at the British Council, added: “We’re developing plans for the British Council’s most ambitious arts and education programme.

“We’ll explore how the work of one English writer travelled the world, inspired artists in every medium and is now enjoyed in over 80 languages.”

Geraldine College, director of events and exhibitions at the RSC, said: “I am really excited about what the town (Stratford-upon-Avon) and the RSC has planned to mark this very special year.

“Here at the RSC we’ll be lighting up the sky on Shakespeare’s actual birthday, Wednesday April 23, with what promises to be a magnificent firework display.”

The display will take its inspiration from fellow dramatist Ben Jonson’s description of William Shakespeare as our “Star of Poets”.

In addition to traditional pyrotechnics, the special birthday treat will feature an 8-metre high frame depicting Shakespeare’s face, which will light up in flames.

It will also echo Juliet’s lines about Romeo: “Take him and cut him out in little stars, /And he will make the face of heaven so fine /That the entire world will be in love with night /And pay no worship to the garish sun.”